Men! Men! : Deborah the Prophetess
Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. . . . Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Judges 4:4, 8
When I was a child, we never heard the word “feminist.” We didn’t know any feminists in those days. Yet we did know plenty of females who made it plain what they thought about males — sometimes males in general, sometimes one particular male.
In past years when a woman didn’t think much of a man, she was usually too wise to attack him head-on with harsh criticism. Instead, she often employed the saving grace of humor. Did Deborah the Prophetess have that same tendency toward teasing, as she put in their place some of the men she knew?
Deborah was unusual in Old Testament times: She was a married woman, yet she obviously wasn’t under the thumb of her husband. He is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures only as her spouse; she’s the one who gets all the attention in the ancient narrative. Maybe Lappidoth, Deborah’s husband, was a weakling. Maybe on the other hand he was such a strong character that he didn’t feel threatened when his wife showed signs of God-given leadership.
But the famous story told in the Book of Judges isn’t about Deborah and Lappidoth: It’s about Deborah and Barak. And Barak was definitely a man who showed signs of weakness. For one thing, he didn’t like the thought of tackling a big job alone. You can tell that by reading the verses quoted above.
Deborah the Prophetess responded to Barak’s plaintive plea for support. She gladly went with him when he called the hosts of Israel into battle against their foes. Yet she warned Barak that neither he nor any other man would get the credit for the victory which God was planning to give them. “Because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (Judges 4:9).
Sisera was the commanding general of the enemy host. He, too, seems to have leaned upon a woman for support, judging from the jeering reference to Sisera’s mother in the great paean of victory that was sung after the battle was won (see Judges 5:28-30).
The woman Deborah was referring to, the one who would be honored in place of Barak, was not Deborah herself but rather another married woman: Jael, wife of Heber. Jael murdered General Sisera when he stopped to rest from the rout; read Judges 4:17-22 if you’ve forgotten about Sisera’s grisly end.
The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Deborah, like many another wise woman before and since, knew well enough how to employ a wry sense of humor as she put males in their place:
Men! Men! Would they ever move
without a woman as motivator?
Maybe so, but I suspect
it wouldn’t happen till some time later.
Barak, for example now.
A good man, Barak, well equipped to lead.
Yet until I’d pushed him hard,
he wouldn’t move; he wouldn’t meet the need.
Even then he wouldn’t go
unless I went. I gave him fair warning:
“Who’ll get the credit? Women, . . .
when all of us shout, come victory morning.”
Men! Men! Folks say that even
great Sisera, mighty captain of our foes,
has a mother; she tells him
what he should do, and everything he knows.
When the day of battle came,
still our Barak stayed, wouldn’t take the field,
until I shouted, “Barak!
Now lead the charge! For soon our foes will yield.”
Sisera? O, he lost it all.
He ran, O yes! But still he couldn’t hide.
In Jael’s tent he rested,
and nailed by Jael’s tent-peg, there he died.
Men! Men! Do they realize?
Do they ever know how much they owe us?
Never mind. Give God the praise.
I’ve never been one to make a big fuss.
O God of families, bless all the women who do the work . . . even if someone else gets the credit. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas